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In a diverse city, mayoral candidates try to cover all the bases

Looking to build victorious coalitions, Garcetti, Perry, Greuel and James crisscross Los Angeles, reaching out to voters in their homes, houses of worship and meeting places.

January 21, 2013|By Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times
(Luis Sinco, Los Angeles…)

Trying to build coalitions that will deliver victory, Los Angeles' mayoral candidates are feverishly crisscrossing the city, reaching out to diverse groups of voters in their homes, houses of worship and meeting places.

Councilman Eric Garcetti spent Sunday visiting African American churches, encouraging volunteer precinct walkers in a Latino enclave in Wilmington and meeting with Northeast L.A. community leaders at a Mexican restaurant in Mount Washington.

"I believe no part of this city should be forgotten," Garcetti told dozens of volunteers in Wilmington. One of his supporters told him the community was the redheaded stepchild in the city of Los Angeles, he said to the crowd. "No mas. No more. We're going to make sure this is a city for everybody."

Garcetti isn't alone in angling for support among the city's many ethnic groups. Councilwoman Jan Perry on Friday spoke to Jewish and African American students at a USC Shabbat dinner that commemorated the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Garcetti and Perry joined fellow mayoral hopefuls Controller Wendy Greuel and attorney Kevin James at a forum at an African American church in South Los Angeles the evening before. The previous night, they spoke before a largely white audience in the San Fernando Valley.

The appearances before such varied voter groups reflect the challenge and necessity of retail campaigning, and building support across Los Angeles' sprawling array of ethnic, geographic and religious groups.

"Los Angeles has always been a much more diverse city than the rest of the nation, so we've been playing coalition politics for 30 years," said Anthony Samad, a professor of political science at East Los Angeles College. "It's just no longer bifocal black-and-white politics. It's multifocal — black, white, Latino, Asian, and now you even see segments of the Armenian and Arabic communities begin to demand some level of political equality."

Previous mayors have built varying alliances to win office. Antonio Villaraigosa's coalition was staked on Latinos but also attracted progressive voters, notably from the Westside; African American and Jewish voters fueled Tom Bradley's victories; African Americans and San Fernando Valley whites backed James Hahn; a combination of Valley conservatives and Westside liberals supported Richard Riordan.

"Los Angeles is really a heterogeneous city, and that's exactly the point — you can't think about it in terms of just a couple pieces in order to run citywide," said Sean Clegg, a Democratic consultant who advised Villaraigosa's two successful runs and is working with an independent committee backing Greuel's candidacy.

"Los Angeles is kind of where the rest of the nation will go, big-city America will go, in the next five, 10, 20 years," added Jaime Regalado, professor emeritus of political science at Cal State L.A.

The city's demographics are shifting, changing the influence of various groups. Latino and Asian voters' numbers are growing. White voters remain a disproportionate force. Black voters' numbers are dwindling, but their propensity for voting along with Jews remains high, making both coveted bases.

Perry, who is black and Jewish, played to both groups when she spoke at the Shabbat dinner at USC.

"Shabbat shalom! And happy King day!" she told students at the university's Hillel Center, adding that she was a Trojans alum and her campaign office was down the street from the campus.

The previous night at the South Los Angeles church forum, Perry drew applause for pledging to hire a diverse staff if elected mayor.

"To the African American community specifically, if you have felt that you have been left behind the last eight years by the current administration, I can assure you, you will not feel that in the next eight years," she said.

After Garcetti left early for another event, Greuel subtly swiped at her top rival for not showing the gathering adequate respect.

"I canceled my event tonight so I could be here and stay for the whole time," she said in her closing remarks.

Garcetti on Saturday pledged to pay more attention to Wilmington and other areas of the city he said have been forgotten.

"This is for our city, our neighborhood," Garcetti told scores of volunteers in the parking lot of Eddie's Tire Center, as a youth mariachi band prepared to perform.

Later, over guacamole and horchata at a nearby Mexican restaurant, Garcetti said the area's crime and pollution problems had been neglected by city leaders.

Wilmington "has gotten the short end of the stick for decades," Garcetti said. "We're already a city with so many corners and forgotten areas, and it's important to me to campaign the way you're going to govern."

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